Recently Wheaton College in Illinois hired a woman who declares herself to be a celibate, gay, Christian. You can read the World magazine article here. She says that she is gay, but that being gay does not define her. She is defined by Christ, not by her sexual orientation. She also says she will not act on her desires. What are we to make of this argument? Is it valid to say I want to have sex with women, but I won’t act on that desire? The hiring shows the continued breakdown of a Biblical understanding of sin, temptation, and repentance at Wheaton, which has been coming on for some time. Owen Strachan has responded over at Patheos. Toby Sumpter has picked up on one aspect of the debate. Here are a few of my thoughts.
Sin is not just external action. To argue this is to undo the church’s teaching on sin and oddly enough to become legalistic. The article implies that sin is really in what you do, not in what you want. But this runs contrary to the Scriptural narrative. Remember Matthew 5:28. Lust is adultery. Wanting to sleep with a woman is as bad as sleeping with her in God’s eyes. James 4:1 makes it clear that outward sin, wars and fights, come from inward sin. Numerous sins, such as bitterness, anger, malice, lust, covetousness, are inside us. Even external sins begin in the heart. Jesus said that adultery, murder, and sexual immorality come from the heart. Sin lives in us. Sin is not simply engaging in an action that is wicked. It is thoughts, desires, and emotions that are contrary to God’s character and His will for the human race. Putting to death sin does not just mean dealing with external manifestations of sin. It means reshaping our thoughts, desires, and emotions so they are brought in line with God’s will. To argue otherwise is to hold a deficient view of sin, repentance, and the Spirit’s work in our lives.
What we want matters. Desires matter. We can be guilty of sin by wanting something that we should not have. Here is why same-sex attraction is a sin. It is a twisted desire. It is wanting what one should not long for. With any other sin this is clear. If I hate man and want to kill him the solution is not simply to refrain from killing him. The solution is to repent of the desire itself. My desire to kill the man is a sin even if I never do kill him. If I long to look at porn the solution again is not to simply refrain from looking at porn. The solution is to repent of the desire for porn. So it is with every sin . The external expression is merely a part of the sin and often the easiest to deal with. To argue that I can be attracted sexually to the same gender and not be sinning is contrary to the Scriptures. The desire is a sin and should be repented of.
Sexual sins, both their internal and external manifestations, can be overcome by the Spirit of Christ, the Word of Christ, and the body of Christ. To argue otherwise is to say that Christ cannot make us new. A theme running through “gay Christian” articles is that same sex attraction can not be fully dealt with. We do not say this with other sins. A man filled with greed should not be told, “Well you can never overcome your greed orientation.The Spirit can’t deal with that. You are stuck. But make sure you never steal.” What hope is there in that? What grace is there in that? The Jesus who drove out demons and converted a murdering psychopath cannot help me? Too many Christians have too low a view of the Spirit’s work. It is not easy to put our sinful desires and actions to death. But it can be done.
Finally, homosexual sin is not in a separate category from other sins when it comes sanctification. Paul in I Corinthians 6:9-11 puts sodomy right along with all the other sins we might think of, fornication, idolatry, drunkenness, etc. In other words, sodomy can be dealt with by the regular ministry of the church. A man or woman with same sex desires can be reoriented just as a man with a desire for drunkenness or prostitutes can be reoriented. We tend to take Romans 1 and put homosexuality in its own category. On a cultural level it might be. But on an individual level it is like any other sin. How should a minister deal with a young man with a porn habit? How should he deal with a man who is filled with anger and rage? How should he deal with a woman who is filled with bitterness? The same principles he applies there should be applied to the sodomite.